Tag Archives: Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act

A Deeper Look At New USDA Guidelines for Schools

In last Tuesday’s blog, Central looked into schools serving meals three times a day—and it really shows just how times have changed.  Thanks to a rough economy, many children eat over half to all of their meals at school during the week.

In general, “the school meal” has been a hot topic, perhaps really kicking off in 2010 when the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed and First Lady Michelle Obama started the Let’s Move! campaign.

It’s been a few years since those initiatives have been put in place and with anything, there are always changes and revisions.

On January 26, the USDA released new guidelines to improve nutritional quality.

To summarize, schools will have to offer more fruit, vegetables and whole grains, provide fat-free or low-fat milk, limit calories based on age and reduce saturated fat, trans fat and sodium.  Also, every three years school lunches will be reviewed to ensure they are consistent with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.  (Further detail of changes reviewed later on in this blog).

Schools will have to start to implement these changes on July 1, 2012—which kicks off a three year phase for all of the changes included in the document, “Nutritional Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.”

At a whopping 80 pages, this document is no quick read and is a lot of information to sift through. Because there are so many revisions, the USDA isn’t leaving schools in the dark.

On March 1, the USDA released a very informative (and shorter) document, “Questions & Answers to the Final Rule, “Nutrition Standards in the School Lunch and Breakfast Programs,” which focuses on specific changes piece by piece.

It’s not surprising the very first question is, “Why is USDA setting new meal patterns and dietary specifications for school meals?”

Well, the signing of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was a huge step in school nutrition because it was the first change in the last 15 years.  So, going back to the concept that “times have changed,” they really have.

In this chart by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the rise in childhood obesity is clear.  From 1963 to 1970, four percent of six to 11-year-olds were overweight, and 5 percent of 12 to 19- year-olds.  There were subtle changes from 1971 through 1980, and then there was a big jump from 1988 to 1994 when the rate jumped to 11 percent for children between the ages of six and 19.

Today? Almost every one out of three children is overweight.

With many children getting many if not all of their nutritious meals at school, the USDA knew it was time for some changes to be made.

To go into further detail, the USDA lists the following as the main differences to the old rules and the new ones:

  • Food planning based on age and grade group
  • Fruits and vegetables now two separate food components
  • “Offer vs. Serve” approach, to have students choose at least a half a cup of fruits or vegetables
  • Weekly grains ranges along with a daily minimum requirement—and by the third year, all grains served must be whole grain-rich
  • Only serve unflavored or flavored fat-free milk or unflavored low-fat milk
  • Minimum and maximum calorie levels
  • Two intermediate sodium target reductions, then a final one
  • Limit trans fat and saturated fat
  • Three year administrative review cycle

Currently, the new guidelines do not affect meals for children with disabilities or children in pre-kindergarten.

The three year administrative review cycle will start during the 2013-2014 school year.

The new changes and guidelines are extensive. But documents like the “Questions & Answers on the Final Rule” help to simplify. 

Here is a list of some helpful resources from the USDA, be sure to find all of them here:

Also, don’t forget to check out our blog from Tuesday March 19 about schools serving three meals per day.

Should Schools Be Serving Children 3 Meals a Day?

We all remember the images from the show, “Leave It to Beaver,” in which Wally and Beav, the two teenagers, would come home from school with their mother waiting—apron tied snugly around her waist—offering an after-school snack consisting of a turkey sandwich and glass of milk for each of the boys.  Dinner would be in the oven, of course, usually a nice meatloaf, with corn, mashed potatoes, and a pie perched in the window to cool down.  No matter what the case, Dad would always make it home for dinner, laughing, smiling, sharing stories and eating—TOGETHER.

Times Have Changed

Oh, how times have changed.  It’s 2012, and unfortunately, in most cases, both Mom and Dad are forced to work, if their lucky enough to find a job.  The recession has caused chaos, driving up the cost of living.  According to the Huffington Post, 15 percent, or 46 million, of Americans live below the poverty line.  If you include those who are living paycheck to paycheck, it equals out to be about half of the American population.  Unfortunately, this translates to food allowance as well, resulting in many families having only one meal a day.

Before 2010, the USDA School Meal Programs (including the School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program) offered breakfast and lunch to low-income children at a free or reduced price, those children often went home to a pantry with little to no food.  According to the website strength.org, hunger affects students’ ability to concentrate, makes them more susceptible to sickness, and affects their emotional health.  Schools nationwide began to notice the impact of hunger on those affected by the recession and knew something had to be done.  Thankfully, President Obama stepped up to the plate in 2010, and introduced the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, which expanded the afterschool meal program to all 50 states, improved the area rules so that more kids were eligible for the program, extended the program into the summer when school was out, and improved the quality of the food to include healthier choices.  Before the program was introduced, only 13 states were covered, and the majority of states only gave out snacks.  With the act signed into law, there will be about 21 million additional dinners served by 2015.  Advocates for the poor praise Obama for signing the law; yet, there are also critics that think the law is taking away from time that needs to be spent with the family.  As Rush Limbaugh stated, “Why even send the kids home?”

But Does Family Dinner Equal Better Outcome for the Kids?

A paper written by Washington State University professors, Martha Marino, MA, RD, CD and Sue Butkus, PhD, RD, focused on the importance of eating meals together as a family.  According to their research, the benefits of eating together include: better communication, better school performance and better overall adjustment; they were less depressed, less likely to do drugs, exhibit difficulty at school and get in trouble in school.  They also found that those children who ate meals with their families ate more fruits and vegetables, drank more juice and less soda.  Mothers in the Nutrition Education Network of Washington’s focus groups said, “When we eat together, we eat better.”

School meals have also proven in the past to be higher in fat, saturated fat, and sodium—but so is the diet of the average American nowadays.  Thankfully, the Obama administration noticed in increase in obesity in children and in 2010, First Lady, Michelle Obama, introduced the “Let’s Move” campaign, which emphasized healthy families, communities and schools by exercise and good nutrition.  The USDA has now placed guidelines that will improve the nutritional quality of school meals on a daily basis.  The First Lady announced on February 10, 2012 that 2,862 schools have now met the HealthierUS School Challenge, surpassing the goals of this key component of her Let’s Move! initiative.

The Debate Continues

So while the debate still goes on as to whether schools should be stepping in to serve three meals a day to children, at least those children least fortunate than others are now getting healthier food and going home with full tummies, as opposed to the alternative.

As Kate Lareau, a Memphis-based not-for-profit grant writer that works with people in a south Memphis housing project, said, “Do we need to provide all three meals? I’m not sure,” she said. “But I personally know children who don’t get any food after they get home. I don’t want those kids to be hungry for sure.”

Schools to Celebrate National School Breakfast Week

During the week of March 5-9, schools and organizations across the United States will celebrate National School Breakfast Week to highlight the importance and availability of the School Breakfast Program.  Each year, the School Nutrition Association (SNA) creates a theme that starts in January and runs through National School Breakfast Week.  This year’s theme is “School Breakfast—Go for Gold.”

SNA’s goal with this campaign is to help students learn the importance of a healthy and active lifestyle. They also mention it lines up with the USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge and Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign.

SNA has put together several resources on their website to get schools back on track and ensure they have all the tools they need for a successful breakfast program.

The also want to make sure students, parents and the media know:

  • The School Breakfast Program is available for schools
  • There is an established link between breakfast and academic success
  • Eating a nutritious breakfast is important as it helps children keep at a healthy weigh

It’s extremely important for children to maintain a healthy weight.  According to the Let’s Move! website, every one in three children is overweight.

“Thirty years ago, most people led lives that kept them at a height weight,” Let’s Move! said. “Today, children experience a very different lifestyle.  Walks to and from school have been replaced by car and bus rides.  Gym class and after-school sports have been cut; afternoons are now spent with TV, video games and the internet.  Parents are busier than ever and families eat fewer home-cooked meals.  Snacking between meals is not commonplace.”

The good news is, as Let’s Move! went into its second year this February, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said they didn’t see a rise in childhood obesity.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, MyPlate and the new standards for school meals are a few of the many factors that have helped in the fight against childhood obesity.  Now the goal is to give children the tools they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

For all information about this year’s National School Breakfast Week, including tools and resources for schools, visit SNA’s website.

Will your school be celebrating National School Breakfast Week?

The Latest on School Nutrition: New USDA Standards

Last August the School Nutrition Association released their “The State of School Nutrition 2011,” which found many school nutritionists and foodservice workers eager to provide healthier menu items at their schools.

Image: Jeltovski/MorgueFile

Unfortunately, many schools cited monetary reasons as to why they were unable to enhance menus.  Other schools just hadn’t made the switch yet.

There’s been a huge emphasis on school nutrition and health since Michelle Obama stepped into her role as first lady.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed in December 2010, the food pyramid was revamped into MyPlate and Mrs. Obama initiated the Let’s Move! campaign, which aims to create a healthier generation of children.

So while some things have just been encouraged or implemented as guides, come July 1, schools will have to start making changes based on the USDA’s new standards.

The new standards were announced on Jan. 25 and stem from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.  Per the USDA’s website, the new rules are to:

  • Offer fruits and vegetables to students daily

    Image: margey6652/Morguefile

  • Increase offering of whole grain-rich foods
  • Provide only fat-free or low-fat milk
  • Limit calories based on age so students receive their appropriate portion size
  • Reduce amounts of saturated fat, trans fat and sodium

Schools must begin making changes at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, but will have three year period to implement all revisions.

While some critics say more can be done for school nutrition, many are pleased, including Sarah Wu, former anonymous blogger for her blog Fed Up with Lunch (also known as Mrs. Q, read our October interview with her here).

“I think it’s really great, actually,” she said. “I’m pretty pleased with them and it’s definitely a good step in the right direction.  There’s more we can do, but I’m totally happy.”

Image: Fed Up with Lunch

One of Wu’s biggest concerns goes back to the reason why many schools hadn’t made the move to healthier items in the first place: money.

“I think I’m concerned about how districts will make it work with the money they have,” she said.

According to the USDA, the price of school menus will increase by six cents—which is the first big increase in the last 30 years.

To compensate, the USDA will increase funding to cover the six cents.  However, Wu pointed out despite the increased funding, she mentioned it’s been said the cost for the new standards may actually be 11 cents per meal.  If that is the end result, the five cent difference could be challenging for schools.

“There are ways instead of having to absorb those losses,” Wu said, and wonders if schools could get in touch with local non-profits, foundations, have fundraisers, etc.

“There have to be ways people can engage and help.”

Image: imelenchon/MorgueFile

So cost aside, Wu and many others are pleased with these new standards.

In the USDA’s press release, they also had other improvements they would like to make such as to have nutritional standards apply to all ways students get food and beverage (i.e. vending), have “common-sense pricing standards for schools” and provide training and technical assistance to help schools comply with the new standards.

To view more information about the new guidelines, including links to sample menus and more, visit the USDA’s website.

How do you feel about the USDA’s new standards? Schools, how will this impact you directly?